June 2010

380 Pocket Pistols: CZ USA, Sig Sauer, Walther Shoot It Out

Our team said that CZ USA’s Model 83 is a home run, and they also liked Sig Sauer’s modern P238. Sig’s P232 may be a sentimental favorite, but we’re mixed on the Walther PK380.

One of the hottest trends in firearms sales is the resurgence of pistols chambered for 380 Auto or 9mm Browning. This cartridge is also referred to as 9mm Kurz or 9mm "short." However, scarcity of available ammunition remains a problem. We checked with several retailers and found they were hesitant to sell quantities of 380 ammunition unless the customer was actually buying a 380-caliber handgun. It wasn’t until our local gun shop made contact with a wholesaler by the name of Camfour (www.camfour.com) that we were able to locate the necessary quantity of ammunition to complete our tests. But with so many new 380s in the offing, supply of ammunition is bound to catch up.

We begin our tests of available 380s with two models that have been in production for so long they are, in regards to marketing, almost invisible. They are the $522 CZ USA Model 83 and the $900 Sig Sauer P232. Our third gun was the $393 Walther PK380. The PK380 has been available for little more than one year. The fourth gun represents the new generation of 380 ACP pistols. The $643 Sig Sauer P238 is a much smaller pistol with little pretense towards filling the role of a primary carry gun.

Our test procedure was broken down into two phases of operation. Phase one was to determine base accuracy. We wanted to know what kind of groups could be shot with each gun from sandbag support. Test distance was 15 yards. Our point of aim was the white 1.9-inch circle at the heart of the Reckstine Sight-In Target. This test was performed outdoors.

To assess the close-quarter capabilities of each pistol, we utilized a three-shot drill fired at close range upon a Hoffners ABC16 target. Placed 5 yards downrange, we recorded elapsed time beginning with the audible start signal from our Competitive Edge Dynamics electronic shot recording timer (www.cedhk.com). The drill was to fire two shots into the 5.5-inch-wide by 7.9-inch-high A-zone at the center of the humanoid print and then a third shot to the B-zone or cranial pocket. The B-zone was represented by a semi-circle about 5 inches wide and 3 inches high. Start position was with the gun held in both hands pulled in towards the chest with the muzzle raised at approximately a 45-degree angle. We recorded elapsed times for 10 three-shot strings of fire. This test was performed indoors at the newly renovated Top Gun Handgun Training Center in Houston (www.topgunrange.com). Here we benefitted from a state-of-the-art air filtration system and the safety of ballistic partitions, plus a splash-proof backstop. Lighting was adjustable from back-alley dim to classroom bright. We also noticed digital multi-screens behind the counter and behind the scenes in the administrative offices. Not only was unsafe handling quickly addressed by staff, but our vehicles were under constant surveillance as well.

Test ammunition consisted of full metal jacket fodder and an innovative defense round from Hornady Manufacturing. Our FMJs were the 92-grain rounds from the Czech Republic by Sellier & Bellot, and 90-grain rounds of PMC Bronze from Korea. To determine carry weight of each gun at full capacity, we weighed each gun (unloaded) with a full magazine plus one round of the 92-grain Sellier and Bellot ammunition. During our break-in session, we fired a variety of rounds, including Hornady XTP hollowpoints. But for recording accuracy data, our third test round was the new 90-grain Hornady Critical Defense ammunition. These rounds, manufactured in Nebraska and sold in boxes of 25, were constructed with a filled hollow point to ensure expansion at any velocity in any media. What struck us was that all four guns ran without a single malfunction. Another aspect was that every round we tried in all four guns, regardless of being offered as target ammunition or for defensive purposes, resulted in about the same amount of felt recoil. Usually, target rounds are softer and defensive rounds leave our hands sore. The test turned out to be a lot of fun. Here is what we learned.

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